Inside a fast-growing Medicare Advantage startup's grassroots approach

The average Medicare Advantage beneficiary can choose between dozens of plans. With so many options, one of the fastest-growing Medicare Advantage startups is trying to set itself apart with a grassroots approach. 

Clever Care, founded in 2019, is carving out a niche in Medicare Advantage, offering plans tailored to Asian-American Pacific Islander Medicare beneficiaries in Southern California. The plans offer coverage of Eastern medicine services such as acupuncture and wellness specialists, and over-the-counter allowances for herbal supplements. 

According to an analysis from Chartis, a healthcare advisory services firm, Clever Care was the second-fastest-growing Medicare Advantage startup in 2023. Richard Greene, president and CFO of Clever Care, told Becker's the plan now has more than 26,000 members. The company counts Google Ventures and Massachusetts insurer Point32Health among its backers. 

Startup plans make up a small slice of the Medicare Advantage market, accounting for just 2% of enrollees in 2024. But their share is up from 1.1% in 2019, according to Chartis. 

Clever Care is competing against the biggest payers in the country for members; those companies have decades of brand awareness and name recognition, Mr. Greene said. This requires a grassroots approach. 

"While competitors are inclined to market their plans in very targeted and strategic ways, they often conflate in-language communication with interpretive power and multilingual services and blur allopathic concepts of preventive care with Eastern medicine," he said. 

Medicare Advantage enrolls more members of underrepresented groups than traditional Medicare. According to a May report from CMS, Asian American and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, Black, Hispanic and multiracial people with Medicare were more likely to be enrolled in MA than American Indians and Alaska Native and white people with Medicare in 2023. 

"American seniors are not a monolith when it comes to care," Mr. Greene said. "Equally, AAPI seniors are not a monolith. For Clever Care, establishing competitive market value is intrinsically tied to our overall mission of health equity." 

Most of Clever Care's members prefer speaking to representatives in a non-English language, with around half of the company's members preferring to speak to representatives in Korean and 21% selecting Vietnamese, according to Mr. Greene. The company maintains six in-language member lines and has a network of more than 2,000 bilingual physicians and wellness specialists. 

Clever Care's workforce also reflects the diversity of its members, Mr. Greene said, with 70% of the company's employees sharing its members' ethnic backgrounds. 

The company added nearly 10,000 members year over year in 2024, Mr. Greene said, and is among Los Angeles County's fastest-growing plans. As Clever Care expands, equity will still be central to its strategy, he said. 

"We at Clever Care see ourselves as industry leaders in addressing healthcare inequities for AAPI seniors," he said. "As more insurers lean into value-based, patient-centered care, it is imperative that the healthcare industry, by and large, remains at the forefront of cultural competency and health equity." 

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